India’s China War Revisited (2) A Dispute is Born

Written By: Maj Gen (Retd) Salim Ullah

The Twin Dispute

The first dispute was related to the North East, created by the British, specifically by Olaf Caroe – the Lawrence of India – in the mid 1930s. He resurrected the idea of annexing a swathe of Chinese territory in the Northeast, in order to give India what in the 19th and early 20th century was called a strategic frontier, a nonsensical concept in the modern age. At any rate, the idea was to occupy a stretch of Chinese territory at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The original 1914 attempt failed; it was a fiasco. And the idea was forgotten but resurrected by Olaf Caroe in the mid-1930s, so that India inherited a border dispute with China. It had been going on from the early 1940s when the British began to move into the territory they wished to acquire. And the Chinese government 'complained and complained again' at the British intrusions into what the Chinese regarded as their own territory.

Interestingly, not only Chinese but all international maps showed the international border at an alignment beneath the foothills. That was common ground between London, Delhi, Shillong, Nanking, and Lhasa. All five governments concerned knew the border lay beneath the foothills. But beginning 1940 or thereabouts, the British began moving forward into that territory to acquire what they thought of as a strategic frontier. So that dispute was alive and kicking and it was the first matter to be addressed by Prime Minister-cum-Foreign Minister Nehru when India became independent and he assumed those offices. Nehru made a profound political, diplomatic, psychological mistake. He came to the conclusion that, provided India quickly made good of that new boundary alignment, he could then say to China “Well that's it, that's our boundary, nothing more to discuss about it, it's not open to negotiation, you've got to live with it.” The new maps also revised the boundary in the East so as to include the Himalayan hill crest as the boundary. In some places, this line is a few kilometres north of the McMahon Line.

As for the second dispute, Nehru used that same approach and applied it to the other front of Sino-India territorial impingement, the western sector. He decided, on ambitious advice or self-conceit, that this was not a matter to be discussed with China. The alignment of the Western border was to be ascertained by Indian enquiries into the record, by consideration of India's interests. So he and his advisors came up with an alignment far in advance of anything ever claimed by the British. On July 1, 1954 Nehru issued a directive requiring the maps of India to be revised to show definite boundaries on all frontiers, where they were previously indicated as un-demarcated. See Maps 3 and 4. Interestingly, these new maps also showed the countries of Bhutan and Sikkim as part of India. Nehru made an extraordinary misjudgment and the one that, to quote Neville Maxwell, was to “destroy him and to cost India, China, and indeed the international community dearly.”

K. Subrahmaniam who then served as a deputy secretary in the Ministry of Defence comments that several officers in the Ministry differed with India's interpretation of the border alignment but most chose discretion for fear of censure, much like the rest of senior bureaucracy, both military and civil. “Play safe” remained the order of the day. He laments that Nehru had been fed with myths all along,”….the (eventual) break up of the fourth Indian army division at Kameng in 1962 was such a blow to Jawaharlal Nehru that he probably never really recovered from it….. . a failure which led to a considerable diminution of his image.” Forward Policy

The stage was thus set for open hostilities. The Indian government first used the word 'aggression' against China in 1958 when Indian army found a small Chinese/Tibetan outpost in the middle section of the frontier – Uttar Pradesh [Bara Hoti] – on Indian-claimed territory. In 1959, India embarked upon a provocative 'Forward Policy' in the disputed region. According to James Barnard Calvin of the U.S. Navy War College, “This policy created skirmishes and deteriorating relations between India and China. The aim of the forward policy was to create outposts behind Chinese troops to interdict their supplies, forcing them north of the disputed line. Eventually, there were as many as 60 such outposts established, including 43 north of the McMahon Line, in flagrant violation of even India's claimed line.”

Since the early 1950s, India had begun actively, albeit clandestinely, patrolling the region. It was discovered by troops that at multiple locations, the highest ridges actually lay well north of the McMahon Line. The troops were ordered to occupy the ridge line in the region regardless. Given India's self-assumed interpretation that the 'original intent' of the McMahon Line was to separate the two nations by the highest mountains in the world, in these locations India extended her forward posts northward to the ridges, taking this move to be in line with the 'intent and spirit' of the original border proposal. Indian analysts concede that this was an absurd assumption and the Simla Convention 1914 stated no such intention, latent or otherwise.

As stated earlier, after the Tibetan revolt had been crushed by the People's Liberation Army in a battle at Chamdo in 1950, Lhasa recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in 1951. Exploiting the Tibetan unrest, the Indian Army occupied Tawang, overcoming light armed resistance and expelling its Tibetan administrators. Beginning in 1956, the CIA used this Indian-controlled territory to recruit and train Tibetan guerrillas to fight Chinese troops, with a base nearby in Kalimpong, India. It soon geared up work on a clandestine agenda of regime change in Tibet its favourite pastime. Paradoxically, at this stage Nehru did not look too kindly to the uprising in Tibet. G. Parthasarthi, India's ambassador to China at the time commented that Nehru was 'no friend of the Tibetan cause.’ He found Nehru in agreement with Indian communist leader, SA Dange, who believed that it was the 'masses' which had revolted against the 'feudal landlords' in Tibet. In August 1959, the Chinese Army took an Indian patrol prisoner at Longju, which falls north of the McMahon Line coordinates drawn on the Simla Treaty, signed in 1914. India, however, claimed it to lie directly on the McMahon Line. There was another bloody clash in October 1959 at Kongka Pass in Aksai Chin in which 9 Indian frontier policemen were killed. Recognizing that it was not ready for war, the Indian Army pulled back patrols from disputed areas.

On October 2, 1959 Nikita Khrushchev defended Nehru in a meeting with Mao. Premier Chou would later disclose to Neville Maxwell that the Indian government believed what the Russians told them that China would not retaliate them. The Soviet Union's backing to Nehru as well as the United States' unqualified support boosted India to press on with her forward policy. On 16 October, China protested against Indian incursion on the Thag La Ridge. A few days after Kongka Pass incident, Chinese Prime Minister Chou Enlai proposed each side to withdraw 20 kilometres from a "Line of Actual Control". He defined this line as "the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west." Nehru, persisting with his ascendant attitude, responded with a counter proposal to turn the disputed area into a no man's land. The Chinese border guards displayed surprising restraint that further emboldened the Indian commanders. Thus the line of contact kept moving northward. The 'new conquests' on the field made Nehru even more intransigent

The Whole Truth Sufficient evidence is now available from credible independent as well as Indian sources to suggest that the hype and paranoia created by India about the Chinese 'invasion' was one-sided and malafide. That Nehru had an innate jealousy, if not hatred, for China which is supported by several authentic accounts. Freshly unclassified records reveal B.N. Mullick, India's first Director of the Intelligence Bureau, disclosing what Nehru told him when he first became the director, “India has two enemies, one is Pakistan, the other is China”. The experience of G. Parthasarthi, as quoted above, was not much different. As documented by B G Verghese, an eminent writer presently associated with the Centre for Policy Research New Delhi, in Tibet Sun of 5 October 2012, “G. Parthasarathi met Nehru on the evening of 18 March 1958 prior to his departure for Peking as the new Indian Ambassador to China.” The distinguished Indian diplomat recorded Nehru's briefing in these terms: “So GP, what has the Foreign Office told you? Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai? Don't you believe it! I don't trust the Chinese one bit. They are a deceitful, opinionated, arrogant and hegemonistic lot. Eternal vigilance should be your watchword. You should send all your telegrams only to me not to the Foreign Office. Also, do not mention a word of this instruction of mine to Krishna (Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon).” This is about the time that India had become aware of the truth about the McMahon Line: that it was forged, never agreed to and far in advance of anything ever claimed by the British.”

And so was the alignment of the western border that, according to objective Indian analysts like Karunakar Gupta and BG Verghese, “lacked any foundation in history, treaty, or practice; an alignment which claimed Aksai Chin.” Chou Enlai visited India in 1960, “begging for an agreement on the McMahon Line”, states Neville Maxwell, author of the authentic India's China War, in an interview with Kai Friese carried by Outlook, India, dated 22 October 2012. This was just about the time when Indian troops were sitting far beyond the McMahon Line, having by-passed the Chinese border posts at several places. China made a “genuinely peaceful proposal”, says Maxwell, “this is our understanding of where the traditional and customary boundary in that sector lies, and we would be very happy to discuss it….We are sure we will find an alignment perfectly acceptable to both of us.” This is an approach that China had applied with every one of her neighbours and had a dozen mutually satisfactory boundary agreements to show for it, including the Sino-Soviet agreement. But because of the expansionist Indian claim, essentially on Aksai Chin, “a fanciful, irredentist claim to territory that had nothing to do with India, boundary settlement became impossible (emphasis added).” During the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London held in September, 1962, Harold Macmillan advised Nehru to back off and seek a negotiated settlement. He also passed on some records including maps from the India Office Library showing the origin of India-China boundary. But, alas, the die had been cast.

(To be Continued….)
The writer is a visiting faculty at the NDU, Islamabad, a former DG ISPR and a former diplomat. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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